Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pilot Mountain Payback, Turned into a Race

Last Saturday was the 2nd year for the Pilot Mountain Payback. A friend Abran Moore is the race director and does a great job with the race. I met Abran to help mark some of the course on Wednesday evening. It was cool to hear how he started running just a few years ago and has already put together a new race. The course runs over most of the trails in Pilot Mountain State Park. The start is down next to the Yadkin River. After a short loop in that section the course follows the Corridor Trail which is narrow strip of the Park cutting through the countryside over to the main section of the Park at Pilot Mountain. This trail is a wide groomed trail that is also a horse trail. At around 8 miles the course heads onto the Mountain Trail, the only "real" trail portion left at Pilot Mountain. It is 2.5 miles of most steep climbing on rocky trail with some tight laurel thicket sections. The rest of the trails are groomed, crushed gravel. There are several steps going up to the summit and around the knob, then rock steps back down to Grindstone Trail. Grindstone drops steeply in sections back to the park office where the course takes the Grassy Ridge Trail back to the Corridor Trail and back to the finish. The Corridor and Grassy Ridge Trail are constantly rolling up and down hills. My GPS watch had the race gaining 4457' in elevation and the distance as 23.5. The distance is probably close to 24 miles. Here's a link to my GPS data for anyone interested:

So on to the actual race. I am running Nueces 50 Mile on March 5 and was hoping to do PMPB as hard long run. The race is just ~15 miles from my house, but I was surprised at how many people knew who I was. It was nice to have several people cheering me by name during the race. My area is far from a running mecca. Warming up I saw Josh Wheeler, but he was there for the half-marathon. At the start, I got out just enough to check bibs for who might be marathoners. Just one tall, really lean guy was a marathoner. After a big climb and descent to 3/4 mile, several half runners and the lean guy started to pull away. I was just thinking to stay steady and relaxed over to the mountain section. The Mountain Trail is through open woods and as I neared the top I was surprised that first place was still not in sight. I would normally expect to close the gap on a big climb. I had forgotten to look at last years splits before the race, but thought I was running well, thought I was climbing well. At the summit, I heard that I was between 2 and 3 minutes back of first place. I began to reanalyze my race plans. With Nueces in two weeks, how hard did I want to work. To be honest, I felt a little pressure to win being the local and hearing folk's encouragements. I had already planned to go down the mountain fast and free, something I've really worked on in the past year. I continued to question how hard to go over the next twenty minutes, but planned to push a little on two miles of Grassy Ridge, then go harder from 7 miles out.

Nearing the bottom of the mountain someone said I was only 30 seconds back. I assumed they were wrong, but about a mile from the park office the lean guy was coming back to the course after missing a turn. I was relieved. I figured that I should be able to go by and cruise home. I planned to stay steady and I'd break away shortly. As I began to set the pace, he laced on. It appeared that I was climbing easier and descending the steep hills better, but I could tell he had more true leg speed on the flats. The two miles of Grassy Ridge clicked by and the lean guy was stuck to me like glue. I could tell he was working hard, but I could tell he was a racer. He was not going to break easily. As the Corridor trail went by, I surveyed my race strategy once more. I felt like we were standing toe to toe trading punches. I thought I was throwing more punches than him and hitting a little harder. But I questioned if I could keep throwing punches and could he take all my punches, throwing a final knock out. I pondered picking up the pace slightly at 4 miles or hard 2 miles out. Then at about 4 1/4 miles out we hit a long hill. About a 1/4 of the way up I felt him drift 10 yards back. My thoughts were to stay steady and keep climbing. I could feel him falling back more, listening for the sound of footfalls and breathing. No checking the shoulder. I think it is crushing to watch someone pull away and never give even a glance back. A mile latter on some switchbacks, I could see easily back up the trail and he was nowhere in sight. Now what would my new course record be. I finished in 3:05:56 compared to 3:15:15 last year. Compared to last year, I was 2:28 faster over the first 8 miles, 3:32 faster over the middle 9 miles, and 3:19 faster over the final 7 miles. When second place finished in 3:10:16, I noticed he was wearing a 100K World Cup shirt from 2005. He had run for the US Team. He was Mark Werner. I checked him out when I got home and he had a nice running resume. No wonder that he was so hard to break.

It turn out to be probably a perfect prep race for Nueces. The racing was good for the head and I didn't end up sore any. I ran very even which I hope to do at Nueces. I want to be much more of my typical strong finisher than I was at Bandera. I'd rather be hunting at the end of a race than begging for the finish line. It was great hanging out after the race, meeting some new folks and catching up with some others. The race was well done and I'd recommend checking it out if you get a chance. I was trying out the new La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0. They worked really well and I plan to do Nueces in them. Compared to the Crosslite, they are lighter and probably more flexible, but a little more supportive in the heel/arch area. They are also lower profile than regular Crosslites. So I haven't decided whether to do a trail 10K this weekend or not. What do you think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Canoeing the Nantahala River - February '99

Coach Mitchell Running the Nantahala Falls '98

Life is surprising. Sometimes the most significant events in a person's life might seem ordinary to an outside observer. What is possibly the most significant event in my life, caught me entirely by surprise. It was a canoe trip on the Nantahala River. It was the moment I was standing cold and naked on the bank of the river. To be more accurate the precise moment was just after I put clothes back on, but it sounds more dramatic to say when I was cold and naked. I didn't see this event coming, but life doesn't always happen as one plans it. So here's the condensed version.

The Nantahala is a whitewater river in western North Carolina. I went there for first time in August of '98 with my high school running coach, who taught me to paddle. I was taught old school, open canoes, not kayaks, no floation. I liked the larger rapids and bigger waves on the Nantahala. At the end of the eight mile paddle is Nantahala Falls, a Class III rapid with a tricky entry and a significant hydraulic at the end. On that first trip I ran the Falls upright and fairly correct, but took on too much water and ended up “swimming.” I flipped the canoe. That was my first time “swimming” in my 8 years or so of canoeing. Coach Mitchell said it was good to finally see me swim, I wouldn't say I felt the same. I went back in February of '99 to conquer the river. You can guess that things did not go as planned.

It was cold, probably 30s, but the river is always 45 degrees as water is dumped into the stream from the bottom of Nantahala Lake on top of the mountain. If I flipped at the Falls, it'd be no problem as it is at the takeout. Fortunately, I was not so arrogant as to not prepare for the unlikely possibility of overturning on the eight mile paddle down to the Falls. I had a change of clothes stashed in a dry bag, just in case. I would not have fared well being wet for an hour or more in 30 degree weather. I set out on the two hour trip with the river all to myself. I rolled through Patton's Run, Pyramid Rock, Delebar's Rock. This river was far too easy, was the water low? I was ready to get to the Falls and conquer, find a more challenging river. Of course, that is when life happened in the form of Quarry, a rapid with some of largest waves on the river. And I had always tended to aim at the biggest waves or toughest part of a rapid. The canoe went half airborne, I had done that before. Only now, the wave kicked the canoe tilted to the left. I knew I was in trouble as soon as the canoe shot up out of the wave. I was out of the canoe and in the water immediately. The tame river just moments ago didn't feel the same as I grappled for paddle and canoe. Getting to the shore was a struggle, the current was strong and volume was high, not low. When my feet found riverbed, they were met with the jolt of stationary rocks as my body was now part of the fast moving current. I finally got to the shore about ¼ mile downstream. I was cold. I grabbed the dry bag and stripped naked. I was colder. I got dry clothes on, packed up the wet ones, dumped water, and prepared to return to the river. Then life really happened and I paused. I had the strangest feeling and even stranger thoughts. It took me a moment to identify the sensation. Then I recognized it, it was fear.

Honestly, I don't think I had ever experienced real fear, at least not since childhood. I was a good paddler minutes before, I was now a sloppy paddler. I didn't act on instinct, I thought, I doubted. I made bad strokes. I was actually not a very good paddler for probably a year. I'm probably still not as good. (Or maybe just a different paddler?) I questioned if I could even make it down river to the Falls. I questioned if I should go over the Falls. The fear grew, I was afraid of what life held for me. I became more fearful about life than about the river. And then I knew life was about to send me a rapid that I was not going to run dry. I was going to “swim.” I prayed a lot on the rest of downstream ride and not about paddling. I believe in God, so personally this experience was God's preparation for me to not get trapped in a hydraulic of life and drown.

For the next hour, I continued to question whether to run Nantahala Falls or pull out above the Falls, give in to the fear and go home safe. Most canoe paddlers don't run the Falls anyway. People are often surprised to see a canoe try the Falls. But another thought began to echo in my head somewhere, “I didn't come here to not go over this Fall.” I did run the Falls, but badly. I'm not sure if I even made a single paddle stoke to orient the canoe correctly toward the Falls. I never had a chance, I was sideway and rolled in the hydraulic like a novice. I did save the canoe from getting wrapped around a rock, but got my hand trapped between the canoe and rock. A couple of new scars to add to my work beaten hands. Deciding to run the Nantahala Falls, knowing I was going to “swim,” was one of my best life decisions.

A week later I was in the river of life, no longer riding on it. I think I swam for years, not a ¼ mile. But the more significant life experience was being on the river, in the river, cold and naked on the shore, on the river a different person, and “swimming” again. Not the Class VI rapid of life that I eventually survived. I tipped over the precipice on February 28th, the marriage downturn that led to Kathy's and my divorce. Not sure of all the life lessons that began that cold February day. I did eventually learn to deal with fear. I did learn how to “swim” when forced or warranted. I learned that I don't control life as much as I thought. I became more human. When describing this experience to a teenager in our church youth group shortly afterwards, he said, “Welcome to being human. Not to be mean, but its good to see you fall off your pedestal.” I said that I had never tried to be on a pedestal, but he said I was on one nonetheless. I was definitely not on a pedestal any longer. When nerves hit on the starting line of races or doubt creeps in during a race, I sometimes think, “I didn't come here to not go over this Fall. Sink, swim, or conquer.” I say this phrase to myself often with various life experiences. I did go back and run the Nantahala again, almost 7 years later in December 2006. This time Alison was shuttling me, last time it was Kathy. I promise to post that story in March, a little tease. That trip had more life lessons and two unique twist at the end.

My advice is: Of course, run the rapid. You never know what might happen. You probably won't die.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Training Weeks of January 23 - February 6

Week of January 23

Total mileage: 90
Races: none

Sun - Off

Mon - Morning 4m @7.47; Evening 10m @7.50 Total - 14

Tue - Morning 4m @7.44 Total - 4

Wed - Lunch 10m - 6 x Haynes Hill(1/4m ~8%) 1.33, 1.32, 1.32, 1.32, 1.32, 1.32;
Evening 6m @7..30 Total - 16

Thu - Morning 6m @7.53; Afternoon 11m @7.18 Total - 17

Fri - Morning 10m @7.32; Evening 6m @7.28 Total - 16

Sat - Morning 20m @8.34 at Stone Mtn. ~3000' climbing, ~6m in snow;
Evening 3m @8.13 Total - 23

Week of January 30

Total mileage: 40
Swim total: 1/2
Races: Uwharrie Mountain Run 20 Mile - 4th - 2:37.34

Sun - Off

Mon - Afternoon 5m @~8.00; Evening swim 1/2m @18.11 Total - 5

Tue - Afternoon 4m @7.23 Total - 4

Wed - Off

Thu - Afternoon 5m @7.25 Total - 5

Fri - Morning 4m @7.50 Total - 4

Sat - Morning 22m - Uwharrie Mountain Run 20 Mile(20.5) - 2:37.34 Total - 22

Week of February 6

Total mileage: 72
Swim total: 1
Races: None

Sun - Off

Mon - Morning 4m @7.46; Evening 8m @~7.50 Total - 12

Tue - Afternoon 9m @~7.25 Total - 9

Wed - Afternoon 9m - 4m progressive run w/Raul - 6.10, 6.05, 6.00, 5.47;
Evening swim 1/2m @17.45 Total - 9

Thu - Afternoon 8m @~7.25 Total - 8

Fri - Morning swim 1/2m @ 17.41; Evening 6m @~7.54 Total - 6

Sat - Morning 28m @~8.55 - Mt. Mitchell course(Rainbow Tr. to Steppes Gap and down)
~ 4000'+ of climbing w/ Mark Lundblad Total - 28

On January 29th I had a good run at Stone Mountain State Park. I was doing an easy long run up the mountain, about 1400' to 3400'+. It is about 6 miles from the trailhead to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The top half of the climb still had about a foot of snow on the ground which actually was fun to run in, especially coming down. On the way down, I wanted to run more free and condition my quads to downhill running. I was running 5.30-6.00 pace a lot of the last 3 miles. At the bottom I ran up to Wolf Rock and back to get 20 miles. I did a short 3 mile run that evening and felt fine. Sunday morning I knew I had screwed up. My quads were sore, the fast downhill running. I didn't think my legs were that de-conditioned to downhills, but I hadn't done any long downhills in a while. I chopped my milage back for the week, hoping I could get my legs back for Uwharrie Mountain Run. The first race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup.

Jared Scott came out from Arizona and stayed with some friends of mine. He followed us over to the pre-race dinner. Sean Andrish was there and it was good to talk for a while. We talked about meeting up to do ultra sometime this year. Jared, Alison, and I drove over near the start to camp in our cars. A large truck pulled up shortly after we got there and guy came over. He said not to be alarmed by all the guys running around with rifles, they were doing a military exercise. It rained a good bit on Friday and some overnight. I did a short warmup with Ryan Woods and Scott Williams. The rain stopped just before the start, so the course was muddy and waterlogged. Within the first mile I was settled into 4th. I was by myself all day and never had legs. I was off, it probably cost me one place. Not knowing the course, I kept questioning how slow I was going. I knew I was a bit slow at the 8 mile road crossing. When I hit the aid station that said 17 miles, my increasing slowness was confirmed. Oh well. I had a good day running trails in the mud. I had been thinking about my running lately and it's place in my life and my faith. Here is a apocryphal story (not in the Bible) that I had read the week before the race:

One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?” - Elizabeth Elliott

I thought about "who am I carrying the stone for" often through the race. Then late in the race I thought I should have picked up a smaller rock. That made me laugh at myself.

This past Saturday I drove up to Asheville to do a long run with Mark Lundblad. We ran a large portion of the Mt. Mitchell Challenge course. We had some snowy sections and few icy areas. I enjoy the added variety of surface. Mark is one of my favorite people to run with. We seem to have similar running styles and paces, which is nice. He either tolerates my talking or likes it. I enjoy the conversation. I think I had looked at my watch twice when I saw 2 hours. On the rare occasions that Alison and I run together, we barely speak. Really Alison prefers to run alone. On a run with Alison this past fall, I commented on her running faster when I'm with her. She said that she doesn't like people behind her. Knowing what she'd say, I said that I could get in front. Alison said, "I don't like people in front of me." Interestingly we talk a lot at other times, Alison just doesn't like to talk running. I run alone most of the time and especially most long runs. I hope to get together with friends for more runs this year and cut some races. I left Saturday's long run feeling recharged and I need more of that.